What’s the connection between old wine and Jewish continuity?
In Parshat Vayigash we read how Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers in Egypt, (Bereishit 45:4) and then instructed them to go back to the land of Canaan and tell Jacob to bring the whole family down to Egypt. Now Joseph had a challenge. How was he going to convince Jacob that it actually was he, Joseph, who was the ruler of Egypt and that he was still alive?
One of the things that Joseph did was to give the brothers presents, gifts to take back to Jacob.
“Nosim mituv Mitzrayim,” – “They carried with them,” says the Torah, “all the goodness of the land of Egypt.” (Bereishit 45:23)
Rashi on Bereishit 45:23:2 comments here that Joseph gave his brothers ‘yayin yashan’ – ‘old wine’ – to take to their father. Why old wine?
Joseph realised that his brothers would go back to their father and say, “This leader of the Egyptian people was somebody who we could not recognise; he didn’t look like one of us and yet he’s saying he’s the real Joseph.”
Pirkei Avot 4:20 teaches us about the concept of old wine in new bottles, and this was Joseph’s message to his father: Here I am like a new bottle with old wine in it. I might look different, however internally, all my values are the same as those which you taught me. I have not changed one iota.
Through the ages, Jewish people have settled in countries right around the globe. If our forebears met us today they probably wouldn’t recognise us! But as long as our values internally are the same as they’ve always been, we therefore have with us the secret for Jewish continuity.
So let us not forget that powerful lesson of Joseph. Regardless of how we look externally, as long as we carry with us true and authentic Torah values, we will be the guarantors of Jewish continuity.